Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Druridge Curlew (and a seawatch so boring my heart stopped again).

Back in time to the murky depths of the last century, May 1998, in a tiny uninhabited rump of England called Druridge Bay. Here, primitive man fashioned rudimentary binoculars out of flint chips and animal hides, and saw the bird that was subsequently accepted as Britain's first (and the Western Pal's last?*** Update*** not true, see below) Slender-billed Curlew. It came to BOURC just before my time, so I wasn't involved with the assessment. And I didn't see it either. Anyway, the identification has been doubted by people who didn't see it, and inspired by 660 posts of bickering in a BirdForum thread called Slender-billed Curlew - 10 years on, I compared some images from a video produced by Justin Carr of the Druridge bird with stills from a video on YouTube taken at Merja Zerga in 1994 of the last Moroccan SbCs. The Moroccan video is by Andy Butler.

In each of the following images,the left hand bird is an SBC from Merja Zerga (Andy Butler) and the right-hand bird if the Druridge bird (Justin Carr). I hope they don't mind me doing this. In some of the images I have horizontally flipped one or other bird so thety are looking the same way. Also bear in mind that the Moroccan birds are adults and the Druridge is a 1s hence the moult pattern.

Look at the bill shape and proportions above, and also the exact pattern of black spotting in the upper breast and flanks. Considering how individual feathers canbe displaced in the wind and due to brushing by vegetation, I am surprised how much match there is. The Druridge bird has head and body proportions similar to a real SbC too.

This one below is interesting cos it shows the narrow bill base of SbC and the Druridge bird (the Minsmere Eurasian Curlew by contrast had a broad bill base).

This one below shows the wing length of the Druridge bird and it looks to be in the right ballpark for SbC

The two below are perhaps less informative, but the top one maybe puts the Druridge bird's primary projection as a tad shorter than the Moroccan bird. But it also shows the extent of flank spotting to be pretty much identical

As followers of the shenanigans surrounding the-woodpecker-we-shall-not-name will know, it's not enough to show that your image of a potentially extinct bird is consistent with that species, you also have to show it is not consistent with Pileated Woodpecker. I mean any other commoner species. Sorry. Frankly we now know that Eurasian Curlew can look superficially similar to SbC and the quality of the video images from the Bronze Age are not anywhere near as good as we would have got if the Druridge bird had shown up in these modern communist times. Fortunately, I have some Eurasian Curlews among the video grabs from Justin Carr's video. I should say that I took this videograbs when BBRC and BOURC were looking for photos to illustrate the paper in British Birds, so I didn't keep many shots of the rest of the curlew flock. But I've got these two...

In the top one the Druridge bird is at back, with a Eurasian Curlew at front. The danger is that the apparent black 'diamond' spotting on the flanks of the 'boy' was a video artifact caused by poor resolution and high contrast of the video. That the chevron flanks of a Eurasian Curlew could look diamond spotty under these conditions. I think the grabs of Eurasian Curlew confirm that this is apossible concern, but in both shots the Eurasian flank markings appear less contrasty and more chevron shaped (as they should ) than the bird of interest. (especially top shot with the direct comparison). Not great evidence, but I think there's enough here to suggest that the apparent diamond spotting of the Druridge 'SbC' is real.

I think the similarity between the Druridge bird and SbC is quite impressive. But do you know what the most impressive thing is... that I've been drinking Diamond White all night and can still spell shenanigans.


I also did a seawatch this evening after a barbecue at Newtonhill Church where Lizzie has been praising God for his creation of curlews, woodlice and sweets. It was so boring I only last an hour (the seawatch, not the barbecue). (The barbecue had chickens, which is more than the seawatch did). There were hundreds of Black-legged Kittiwakes, including many many fresh juveniles (at sea, not the barbecue). Now I don't want to disrespect Kittiwakes, they are most marvellous birds with an enterprising juvenile plumage that should win design awards, but frankly, I've seen enough Kittiwakes for this life (but I haven't eaten enough - I bet they'd be good in a bun with tartare sauce). Highlights were 2 Black Guillemots flying south towards Muchalls. They are just about annual here, and Muchalls represents pretty much their southern-most breeding point on the east coast. 9 Northern Gannets going north between 18:00 and 1900, 1 Manx Shearwater and 1 Great Skua were just enough to remind me that I was looking at the sea, but it was pretty desperate stuff. Is it any wonder I drink?

Update - Hungary record 2001 - thanks to members of the WestPal birds email list that supplied me with details of the forthcoming publication of an accepted multiobserver record form Hungary in 2001.

Oláh, J. Jr. & Pigniczki, Cs. (2009): The first XXIst century record of Slender-billed Curlew (Numenius tenuirostris) in Hungary. Aquila, 114, p. ???
A summer plumaged adult male Slender-billed Curlew (Numenius tenuirostris Vieill. 1817) was observed near Apaj in the Kiskunság National Park on the 15th of April in 2001. The observation was accepted by the MME NB (Hungarian Cheklist and Rarities Committee) as the first XXIst century observation of the species in Hungary. To our knowledge this record also represents the first documented and accepted observation anywhere in the World. The identification was made after a very thorough examination and was based mainly on the size, plumage details, colouration, bill, legs and body shape. The identification was also supplemented by a video recording made through the telescope. Detailed description of the this bird is given in this paper as well as describing the status of the species in Hungary. A copy of the documentary video was also deposited in the archive of the MME NB.

1 comment:

Trull said...

Self plus parents went for a wander around Crawton yesterday. Highlight was a Northern Fulmar feeding its (fluffy) chick.